More than nine months after the 2020 election, some Republicans continue to follow former President Donald Trump’s lead in waging a campaign to overturn or undermine confidence in the results.
That’s true even in Washington — no one’s idea of a swing state — where Trump lost to Joe Biden by nearly 785,000 votes.
On Sunday, five Republican state representatives are hosting an unofficial public hearing at a Snohomish church, encouraging the public to bring forward evidence of voting fraud or irregularities.
The goal is to lay groundwork for a review of Washington’s election results, similar to the controversial “forensic audit” being conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona, by a private company called Cyber Ninjas.
There has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and courts have struck down dozens of lawsuits challenging the results. But that has not stopped Trump and his loyalists from continuing to claim the election was stolen from him.
The lead organizer of the Sunday hearing — which has not been backed by top Republican leaders — is state Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, who visited the Arizona audit facility last month. In December, he told his Facebook followers to “prepare for war,” after declaring “Joe Biden is not my president.”
MyPillow conspiracy connection
This week, Sutherland was in South Dakota, attending a three-day
“cyber symposium” organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has emerged as a leading purveyor of outlandish, false assertions about the 2020 election.
Earlier this month, Lindell claimed without evidence that millions of votes were flipped by hackers or computer algorithms, not primarily in swing states, but in places like Washington, Oregon and California, “where they could take the most” in order to run up Biden’s popular vote margin.
Lindell faces a $1.3 billion libel lawsuit from voting-machine maker Dominion Voting Systems, which says his false claims have damaged the company’s reputation. On Wednesday a federal judge rejected Lindell’s efforts to have the case dismissed, writing that his claim of “a vast international conspiracy that is ignored by the government but proven by a spreadsheet on an internet blog is so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would believe it.”
Also attending the South Dakota event was state Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, who joined other state lawmakers there in announcing creation of an “election integrity caucus” seeking audits in all 50 states.
Sutherland, who has held his legislative seat since 2019, did not respond to messages on Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment. He represents the 39th legislative district, covering most of Snohomish and Skagit counties.
Sutherland: People “must rise up”
In an interview with a conservative talk-show host at the cyber symposium, Sutherland said he’d heard from many voters concerned about ballot integrity. For example, he said, one woman reached out to tell him she is in the U.S. on a visa but was automatically registered after getting a driver’s license and received a ballot.
Sutherland said if compelling evidence is presented at the hearing, lawmakers will call for an audit, but acknowledged that with Republicans in the minority in the Legislature, they can’t force one. “The people themselves must rise up after hearing the evidence and the data,” he said.
In a podcast interview last month, Sutherland praised the Arizona audit, and said Washington’s election should be similarly scrutinized. He said he has been asked frequently whether he can vouch for the accuracy of Washington’s elections. He said he could not. “I don’t know how our system works when you get down into the weeds. It’s a black box,” he said, adding that “some of the results seem off.”
Other state representatives scheduled to participate in the Sunday hearing include: Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen; Rob Chase, R-Liberty Lake; Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver; and Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley. The group organizing the event has dubbed itself Americans United and Determined to Improve Transparency (A.U.D.I.T.)
While the hearing has been billed as a fact-finding mission, organizers have invited national speaker Seth Keshel, a retired Army captain from Texas who has promoted false claims of widespread voting fraud.
The event is being held at the House Ministry Center, a church that has previously hosted pro-Trump and anti-mask speakers and refused to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders limiting large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some GOP leaders not on board
Unlike in Arizona, where the state Republican Party and legislative leaders backed the Cyber Ninjas audit, the Washington effort so far has not won support from top Republicans.
State House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox said he only knew about the event from what he’d read on social media.
“It’s not a caucus thing. It’s something they’ve chosen to do. I don’t imagine that they could use public money on this. It’s not an official legislative thing,” said Wilcox, R-Yelm.
Wilcox added that in his long experience with elections in Washington he had not seen evidence of widespread irregularities. “There have been cases of people illegally voting, and when that happens, we should, you know, prosecute it. But again, I don’t think it’s systemic and I have never seen any evidence in Washington,” he said.
The claims being circulated by of organizers of Sunday’s event have drawn criticism from Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the state’s chief election administrator and sole statewide elected Republican.
Wyman previously has criticized the Arizona audit as sloppy and damaging, and pushed back on claims by 2020 Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, who lobbed fraud claims after refusing to concede his 545,000-vote loss to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Culp, who is now running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, filed a lawsuit over his election loss, but withdrew it after his attorney was threatened with legal sanctions for making frivolous legal claims.
Wyman: “You’re spreading misinformation”
In an interview, Wyman repeated what she has said to Culp and others making accusations of vote fraud without providing substantive evidence: Put up or shut up.
With talk of dead voters, or people voting twice, “these are felony-level crimes, please get that data to the FBI,” Wyman said. “And if you’re unwilling to do that, you need to stop saying it. Because now you’re spreading misinformation.”
In Washington, vote-counting machines are not connected to the internet, tabulations are observed by both political parties and a series of hand recounts last year in selected voting districts turned up no discrepancies, Wyman noted. There are a handful of fraud cases found during elections, which are referred to law enforcement.
Wyman, who has been speaking with GOP groups in an effort to explain the safeguards in the election system, said the years of Trump claiming he could only lose an election that was rigged have taken a toll.
“I’ve had too many people that I have known for years that are very rational, respected leaders in their community who believe this. And I can’t convince them otherwise,” Wyman said.
Trump’s “stop the steal” rhetoric stoked the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, in which a mob of Trump supporters violently attempted to halt the certification of Biden’s win. The Department of Homeland Security warned this week it was seeing an uptick in people calling for violence due to unsubstantiated claims of 2020 fraud, and seeking the reinstatement of Trump as president, NBC News reported.
Trump has continued to monetize his fraud claims, raising more than $100 million nationally, and pulling in nearly $700,000 from Washington donors this year so far.
“I think that there are many people that are making money and fundraising off of it, and having a lot of success,” Wyman said. “So they want to continue the narrative as long as possible.”